Electronic devices require safe and secure shipping solutions. Depending on the fragility of the item, they can be susceptible to static, vibration, extreme temperatures, and other environmental factors that are common in air, rail, road, and marine transport. To appropriately protect these devices while in transit, foam is generally the packaging material of choice. This is because many types of foam possess the properties necessary to shield electronic devices, parts, and equipment while in transit.
What Makes a Foam Ideal for Shipping Electronic Devices?
The best types of foam for shipping electronic devices have three major qualities.
#1: Anti-Static or Conductive Foam
The foam used should be anti-static (known as ESD foam). Anti-static foam acts as a static shield for static sensitive items. ESD foam helps dissipate electrostatic charges that are easily generated by friction (which is a common occurance as items gently shift while in transit). These static charges can damage sensitive electronic devices and components. ESD foams are chemically treated with anti-static agents that give them a high surface resistance (usually 104 – 109) that reduce electrostatic charges. These types of foams are usually colored pink, but they can be dyed in a variety of colors for presentation purposes (usually for foam electronic device case inserts).
A second option is conductive foam, a polyethylene foam that is filled with carbon, giving it conductive properties. Any item surrounded by conductive foam is protected by the foam that is acting as a Faraday cage, meaning it blocks any electromagnetic fields from coming into contact with the item.
#2: Non-Abrasive Foam
Many electronic devices have sensitive parts that can be affected by abrasion during shipping. Other high-value electronic devices have delicate layers of paint on the outside of them can easily be scratched off due to small movements and vibrations that occur while in transit. To prevent damage to these sensitive devices, it’s necessary to use a non-abrasive foam. Non-abrasive foam will not scratch delicate surfaces should they brush against them.
#3: Packaging Material Standards
A good starting point when looking for anti-static foam for electronic devices is to ensure that it meets your necessary packaging standards. The best standard to look for is the EIA-541 Packaging Material Standards for ESD Sensitive Items, which applies to categories of electrostatic protective packaging materials that possess certain electrostatic properties, including:
- Preventing triboelectric charging (antistatic)
- Dissipating charge either by surface or volume conduction
- Acting as a shield against electrostatic fields
Consider the Size and Weight of the Item
When considering the shipping application it is important to choose open-cell or closed-cell foam.
Polyurethane, an open-cell foam, is lighter and softer, which makes it more ideal for smaller, more sensitive products like circuit boards, CPUs, microprocessors, etc. This type of foam is available in sheets or as layered convoluted foam, also known as egg crate foam.
Cross-linked polyethylene, a closed-cell foam, is much more structurally rigid. This type of foam makes it more durable and tear–resistant. It also does not compress as easily as polyurethane, which makes it more ideal for larger, more bulky electronic items like computers, sound equipment, etc.